There is a classic executive desk toy that has amused many a manager by demonstrating the Newtonian principle that “For every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction.” Five chrome balls are suspended on a wood frame. If one on the left or right is dropped, one on the other end moves. If two on one end are dropped, two on the other end move. But the ball in the middle stays put…
So it is with our nation. Today’s “conservative backlash” is not only just the latest in a series of Newtonesque political reactions, but also predictive of an inevitable return to the solid, reliable, unwavering center.
Antistatism is part of America’s DNA. It fueled the revolution that led to the very birth of our nation; tore it apart in the 1860s; and rived it again a hundred years later. It also led, less violently, but still significantly, to the establishment of the Libertarian Party, the campaign of Ross Perot, and the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s. And every time, we have eventually found our way back to moderation, and progressed as a People.
Thus the antistatists of this decade (whatever we end up calling it) are marching to the beat of a distinctly, uniquely American drum. Opportunists like Rand Paul and Sarah Palin are making the most of the moment, but the path they are on has had as many yaws to the left as to the right, and always has returned to the center.
As in the past, the debate today is about the role of government, and specifically, how much government we need; and the Gulf Oil spill is an excellent example of how conflicted we can be when it comes to resolving that issue.
People wanted President Obama to show some anger — but when he used the phrase “kick ass,” they didn’t like the language he used. They wanted the government to take some action — but when an offshore drilling moratorium was declared so that the safety of other wells can be checked, they didn’t like the action that was taken.
We are like teenagers who want our parents to leave us alone until we need money or the keys to the car; or people who have no use for cops until we get mugged. We want services and benefits, but we don’t want to pay for them, and we don’t want to be told how, when or where to use them.
A legendary Florida politician named Jerry Carter once said, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” We may have matured enough as a nation that we don’t start civil wars over these issues any more, but until we understand his meaning, we still have a ways to go, and will continue lurching forward to get back to the center.